In 1897 Doctor E. J. Goodwin, of Solitude, Indiana, experienced the flash of insight that comes to even the greatest men but once in a lifetime: he discovered the perfect formula by which to calculate the area of a circle.
A man of no small generosity, Dr. Goodwin, after patenting his method, nobly offered to share the formula with the people of Indiana, if only the Indiana legislature would enact it into law. And so, in 1897, the Indiana House of Representatives passed Goodwin's Law:
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana, that it has been found that a circular area is equal to the square on a line equal to the quadrant of the circumference.
Since 1897, the people of Indiana have enjoyed a level of engineering safety, in their bridges, skyscrapers, and highways, unsurpassed in the world. They possess a superior means for calculating the area of a circle, the mathematical constant known as π (a number represented by the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet, pronounced "Pie").
As we're taught in geometry class, a circle is a geometric figure in which all points are equidistant from the center. The distance from the center of a circle to any point on the exterior is known as the radius (symbolized as "r").
We know, thanks to Archimedes, that the area of a circle is the square of its radius, multiplied by π. Or, in Archimedes' formulation, πr2.
Thanks to Goodwin's Law, as passed by the House of Representatives of Indiana, Hoosiers could now calculate π to a degree of certainty unknown to Archimedes and the ancients. Since the quadrant (a quarter) of the circumference of a circle could be measured from a circle's radius (using the formula C, being the circumference of a circle, = 2πr), dividing by 4 and squaring the dividend, it followed that πr2 = 1/4 π2r2
And therefore, that the area of a circle is equal to 4 times its radius squared. Or as Archimedes might have put it, π = 4.
This remarkable result prompted Dr. Waldo, the mathematician of Purdue University, on being asked by an Indiana Senator whether he wished to meet the famous Dr. Goodwin before the bill's final passage, to decline on the ground that he had met a sufficient quota of lunatics in his lifetime.
And so Goodwin's Law failed to pass the Indiana Senate.
I've been reluctant to write about North Carolina House Bill 819, the bill by which the North Carolina Senate (through a re-write of a funding bill already passed by the House of Representatives) proposes to forecast future sea levels, for a number of reasons: first, I knew that it would subject my State to ridicule by my co-bloggers in California and New York, who, though too ignorant to distinguish π from cake, think it's perfectly acceptable for government to mandate that stores provide extra-wide aisles for extra-fat people, while at the same time regulating the volume of a cup of Pepsi.
And I hoped that the North Carolina House, like the Senate of Indiana a hundred years ago, would recoil in horror once the bill's stupidity was explained to them. In four letter words.
But at this point, it looks so close that ridicule may be the last, best weapon.
The state House unanimously rejected a Senate proposal to limit the ability of coastal agencies to make rules based on scientific warnings that the sea level will rise more quickly during the 21st century than it has in the past.
Instead, the bill will go to a House-Senate conference committee co-chaired by a House member who thinks the state should study the contentious issue further.The Senate had inserted the sea-level legislation into a coastal regulatory bill that cleared the House last year. Rep. Pat McElraft, an Emerald Isle Republican who sponsored the original House measure, asked the House on Tuesday to reject the Senate’s rewrite of her legislation.
“There is some controversy over the sea-level-rise area of it,” McElraft said on the House floor. “And I think what we need to do is take it to study and, if we get conferees, we can work it out.”
The intent of the bill, as it's presently written, isn't too objectionable. The goal is to limit the ability of unelected, unaccountable government agencies (as with the Army Corps of Engineers at the federal level) to prohibit coastal North Carolinians from using or developing their own property based on forecasts, a la An Inconvenient Truth, of some climatological holocaust a hundred or thousand years from now.
That's the intent. Of course, the Senate could have struck directly at the problem by curbing the authority of unelected, unaccountable government agencies, but honestly, what government ever willingly diminished its own power?
The method is the problem. The method is to command all state agencies, including potentially universities, to forecast rates of sea level rise extrapolating only from historical data. No consideration could be given to forecast trends such as increasing temperatures and diminishing polar ice caps, regardless of whether including such forecasts would be good science.
Now, I'm not qualified to judge whether that's good science. Neither, in all probability, are you.
But I can say this with certainty: The North Carolina Senate is even less qualified to pass on what is and what is not good science than I am. The North Carolina Senate, a body made up for the most part of lawyers, hog farm operators, and idiot sons of the idle rich, is no more qualified to forecast future sea levels than it is to legislate the sixteenth digit of π.
The State of North Carolina was founded by people who believed in limited government that respects the freedom of its citizens. Members of the North Carolina Senate who are pushing this bill would tell you that the State is still run on the principle of limited government for a free citizenry. And yet, by attempting to legislate its opinion on matters of science, the Senate of North Carolina is venturing into territory formerly occupied by fascists and communists, enemies of freedom who legislated their truth into law without compunction.
Or King Canute, who commanded the tides to stop out of respect for the royal feet. Will the tides stop at the command of the North Carolina Senate? Or will they, like π, remain what they are?